With only 6 weeks left until departure, my to do list is steadily receiving check marks. But it was finally time for Jacqui and I to step up and buy some of the big ticket items we've been putting off.Read More
It's definitely been a while since Jacqui and I gave our poor little blog any attention, but the countdown is on! With just over 9 weeks left until we begin our journey south, it's time for an update on what's going on with us and our little Westy.Read More
The moment our ferry docked, you could feel how different this new place was. It was hotter, the air hung heavy and damp while the stink of dead fish was in the air. Driving off the boat and out of the port Jacqui and I we’re immediately awe struck by the beauty of Mazatlan. After the desert landscapes of Baja we were greeted by palms, greenery and the bustling life of the city. Having officially seen one block of the entirety of Mazatlan, we decided we liked it.
We were late getting off the boat and had no knowledge of the area, so we splurged on an RV park for the night. The site decided on was barely a mile south of the city, but because of the water channel, it required a 30 mile drive, 10 of which was unpaved. There we settled into 3 Amigos RV park on an 8-mile stretch of beach with nothing but beautiful water to be seen. Immediately Jacqui and I had the itch to cool off and jump in the beautiful ocean. Within minutes we were playing like the little kids we are at heart, splashing, swimming, and trying to body surf the waves. Then my foot settled down on something wiggly, and BAM.
I was prison shanked by a stingray right in the bottom of my foot. The stab forced me to let out my warrior cry. All right, maybe it was a little less manly than a warrior cry, like a light whimpering, but still plenty manly. The wound was bleeding profusely and the venom left my whole foot throbbing up to the ankle. But I guess there was a bit of a silver lining. As we slowly worked our way back to the campsite, everyone in the RV park was gathering together to help. And as I sat with my foot submerged in nearly boiling water, which is the only way to treat a stingray wound, we made more than a dozen new retired friends, and got invited to their pizza movie night. Comically enough, the movie of the night was Last Vegas.
Our original plan was to spend a night or two in Mazatlan, then scurry out southbound in search of wind and adventure. But it was from our new friends at the RV park we learned a few important details: From our campsite on Stone Island there is an 8 pesos per person water taxi that takes you downtown, and that very week was Carnaval. Not just any Carnaval either, Mazatlan boasts the third largest in the world, or at least that’s how it was advertised to us. So there was only one decision to be made… stay, explore, experience.
Carnaval is a weeklong event, but the main events we wanted to see weren’t till the weekend. So in the days leading up Jacqui and I attempted to experience all that was Mazatlan. We hiked to the top of the world’s second highest natural lighthouse, visited several art galleries that scatter the city, and explored the Mercado, a collaboration of vendors selling everything from smiling pig heads to hand made leather sandals. We visited the waterfront where the daredevil diver’s plunge from amazing heights into unbelievably shallow water, and ate as much of the delicious street food as we could. In a flash the weekend was on us.
Saturday night was the main fireworks display. It took place not only from land, but also from a naval ship off shore. The land and the sea colorfully battled each other representing the French Colonial invasion of 1864. After that, and a few technical difficulties, was a good old-fashioned fireworks show with the streets crowded, venders selling delicious food, and everyone in a celebratory mood.
On parade day we showed up early with our camera determined to get some good shots. As we walked to the parade it became obvious that we had accidently approached from behind. However, this allowed us a golden opportunity to snap shots of performers while their floats waited to join the parade. Initially we would approach timidly for photos, however, we quickly realized we were being greeted with unbelievable amounts of enthusiasm. Some people would just light up with joy for a photo, and at one point a mob of teenage performers rushed into a massive group scrambling to fit into our photo. Jacqui speculated that because I was a foreigner wearing my news anchor look-alike hat, a button down shirt and holding a nice camera, they probably thought I was taking some very official photos. Whatever the reason, Carnaval was a fantastic conclusion to our time in Mazatlan.
After five weeks in Baja Jacqui and I got the itch and decided it was time to continue our journey south. However, that requires taking a ferry. There are currently two ferry options in La Paz: Baja Ferries, which boasts vessels that look reminiscent of small cruise ships, with cabins and accommodations to see you make the journey across the Sea of Cortez in comfort. Then there’s what we took.
We hopped on with TMC ferries. This is a company that definitely is not catering to tourists, and because of that comes at a considerable discount. The ship is just that, a ship. It is a giant steel beast with a mouth that opens to accommodate semi-trucks with their trailers. After driving into the ship there is even a lift to move big rigs up to the top floor.
After a few repeated days of returning and trying to get tickets or a reservation we finally were successful. We lined up to be loaded on the boat while Jacqui and I were brimming with smiles and excitement. High fives, fist bumps and photographs were in order. We requested that we got put on the top floor because we’d heard you can access your car if you park there. We also heard that it’s more comfortable to sleep in your auto than the accommodations that come with TMC.
After we were guided into the ship, up the elevator, and into a spot with only a few inches to spare between all the surrounding truck trailers, we began to doubt if it was possible, or even an intelligent decision, to get back to our Dolphin. So with the newly sown doubt in our hearts we enjoyed our complementary rice, beans, carne and tortilla dinner, then settled into the passenger room. It was a large blank room full of retired airplane seats, a TV on one side, and the lovely fragrance of urine. A few hours in that room had me reinvigorated to reinvestigate how hard it’d really be to get back to our car. I saw that a few other cars were occupied and came to the conclusion…this is Mexico, no one is going to yell at me if I wander onto the deck and crawl into my car.
In the states they would never even allow civilians on this ship. Not that it’s unsafe for voyage in any way, quite the opposite actually. It’s simply that this is not a passenger vessel. This boat was purpose built to haul semi-trucks and workers. To get down to our Dolphin we had to hold the narrow handrails, not fall down the stairwell where the door was left open, squeeze between vehicles and finally crouch under a semi-truck trailer to get in. In the states everything would have been padded, warning signs and no trespassing signs would be everywhere, and every worker would be making sure I didn’t stub my toe and sue the company. Not here, if I tripped and knocked my teeth out, I’d simply be a toothless idiot. If I say so myself… I really quite like it.
Aside from that, disembarking is a rather modest affair. We sat in the Dolphin watching them remove the truck trailers around us, and only vacated the vehicle in fear of getting crushed twice. Then it’s back down the lift, out the security gate and you’re magically in a whole new place. Mazatlan!!
After missing out on a chance to see the Grey Whale breeding ground in Guerrero Negro, Jacqui and I were not about to miss out on the Whale Sharks in La Paz. We made a quick reservation with a tour guide via phone call while we were in Tecolote, and were supposed to meet him at Marina La Paz the following morning.
However, the next morning rolled around and we couldn’t find our tour guide. Whether it was a location miscommunication or he just flaked I couldn’t tell you. But lucky for us there was an office in that port that offered nothing but Whale Shark tours. A man from the office came out and asked if we were lost, at which point we asked if he knew of the tour guide whose business card I had. He didn’t and neither did the port authority. But it would seem the tour office took pity on us. He informed us that if we wanted to join with the group they had leaving in a few minutes, they would drop $15USD off each of our ticket prices. That brought the price to equal with what our other guide was offering, and made it a no brainer to hop on board.
Best decision ever!! We had the privilege of seeing 4 different gentle giants that day. Strangely enough, it almost seemed like we saw them in order since each was bigger than the previous. We started with an 8ft baby, followed by a 16ft teenager, a 20ft adult and ending with a 35ft grandpa.
Thanks to the GoPro and Jacqui’s newly found video editing skills, we have a 1min highlight video of the day.
After a few weeks settling into our temporary hometown of La Ventana, Jacqui and I had an epiphany: we are the only people who ever seem to drive our RV. There are a lot of RV's here, but they stay constantly parked. It seems every other person brought an extra car, an ATV, a motorcycle or bicycles. Whereas every time we want to run errands, we have to pack up the whole house, take it off leveling blocks, and drive sluggishly to pick up a few groceries. So this brought on: Operation Find Alternative Transportation.
Our first thought was how awesome it'd be to have a small, beater motorcycle or scooter to ride around. I'll tell you right now, if you want something cheap with an engine, buy it in the US. Back in the states a junky motor-vehicle is an eyesore, and something your neighbors or significant other is constantly convincing you to get rid of. But here in Baja, anything that moves, or limps along for that matter, is a viable means of transportation. There seems to be no social stigma I can see about piling your entire family, groceries, and whatever cargo you have onto the back of a tiny scooter that’s billowing black smoke. Because of this, it’s next to impossible to find an old motorbike for sale.
So a bicycle became the only way to go. Once again we found it would have been cheaper to get a good condition, used bicycle in the states. However, getting a bicycle professionally repaired here is incredibly inexpensive. So a used, poor condition bicycle becomes a frugal man's best course to take.
I managed to find an old mountain bike for $46USD that suited me nicely at a pawn shop. It definitely needed work and had obviously been poorly spray-painted red. However, I was in love.
Jacqui's bike was harder to find, and more expensive, but we finally found a beast we decided was perfect for her at a posted price of 1300 pesos (about $100USD). But, worry not, Jacqui and I have been listening to Spanish tapes and reading our dictionary, so I was ready to use my excellent negotiation skills. I approached, greeted the woman good afternoon, and asked her if she could sell the bike a little cheaper… or so I thought. You see, the word cheap is barato, but if your pronunciation is a little off, you might slur out the word borracho...which means drunk. My negotiation of price was met with hysterical laughter.
However… it was successful. This señora was good-natured and agreed I could have the bike a little more drunk. With a wink, she proposed 1200 pesos and 4 cervesas as her counter offer. A purple bike with front shocks for about $90USD left us more than happy, and with a good story.
Finally, we had to figure out where to put these bikes. They certainly were not going inside the Dolphin since we're already crammed for space, so we decided to visit the local welder. I spent 30 seconds drawing up a diagram of what I thought could be the perfect rack. I wanted it to come out from the center of our spare tire, fork upwards and be removable with a pin. To me, this did not sound like an easy or cheap thing to make. 300 pesos later (roughly $24USD) we have a fully custom bike rack.
Operation Find Alternative Transportation, complete.